NEED TO KNOW
Language: English and Gaelic
Capital City: Edinburgh
Population: 5.2 million
Area: 30,400 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 44
Electricity: 230V, 50 Hz
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 United Kingdom Pounds = $1.57 US Calculate Other Amounts
Scotland, a member of the EU, does not require visas for citizens of the United States. A valid passport is sufficient for a six-month stay.
GOOD TO KNOW
Books and Movies
Scottish literary classics include Rob Roy, by Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. Any anthology of Robert Burns' poetry is also recommended. Irving Welsh's Trainspotting provides a contemporary take on Edinburgh alternating between hilarious and harrowing. In film, Scottish heartthrobs Sean Connery and Ewan McGregor have extensive credits, though the beloved, semi-historical Scottish extravaganza Braveheart stars Mel Gibson, an Aussie.
Scotland has not been known as a destination for foodies, but like England and Ireland, the food has vastly improved in recent years. The good news is that Scotland has long had stellar raw ingredients; the beef and lamb are some of the best in the world, as is the seafood from the northern seas. The bad news is that the chosen methods of cooking were boiling until gray, frying in a thick batter, or, if you were really lucky, stuffing everything in a sheep's stomach before boiling until gray. You can still get this sort of fare, but at most restaurants you are likely to encounter more modern flavors and presentation.
One place where tradition has thankfully survived is in whiskeycalling it "Scotch" is redundant in Scotland. Getting to know the pleasures of a smoky glass of single-malt amber from the highlands or lowlands is key to understanding Scotlandmaybe that's just what they say at the pubs. For something a bit less numbing, try a glass of Drambuie, Scotland's most celebrated liqueur. Legend has it the recipe for this Scotch-based ambrosiaredolent with honey and herbswas invented by Bonnie Prince Charlie, the 18th-century pretender to the British throne.
With so many cows and sheep, it's no wonder leather and wool items are of particularly high quality. Your choices vary from thick pullovers suited for sailing the North Sea to deluxe cashmere cardigans. A favorite shopping adventure for anyone with the slightest Scottish background is finding something like a scarf or kilt to buy in your family tartanthe plaid fabrics that are particular to each clan. Many shops can help you find your tartan, but the Scotch House is one particularly good shop for that sort of thing. Tucked into corners throughout the ancient cobbled streets of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, you can spend hours browsing and snatching up leather-bound first editions, mouth-blown leaded crystal, and antique furniture. If the prices, or the complications of shipping furniture across the Atlantic, are out of your price range, just pick up some handmade Scottish shortbread. Scottish whiskey, of course, is another affordable and welcome gift for anyone back home. Ardbeg and Oban are particularly recommended, but each single-malt has it's own pleasures, so taste around to find your favorite.
A value added tax (VAT) of up to seventeen and a half percent is added to every purchase in Scotland, but tourists can get this refunded at the airport or train station upon leaving the country.
If a service charge appears on the bill, there is no need to tip further. If not, servers expect ten to fifteen percent. At a bar or pub, you needn't tip for a drink or two, but should tip the equivalent of one round after a long night.
January: 1, New Year's Day; 2, Second New Year's Day
May: First Monday, Early May Bank Holiday; last Monday, Spring Bank Holiday
August: Last Monday, Summer Bank Holiday
December: 25, Christmas Day; 26, Boxing Day
Spring: Friday before Easter, Good Friday; Easter; day after Easter, Easter Monday